When I unzipped the partially opened small backpack that Gareth had handed to me with sheepish eyes, and I saw a grey, misty gaze peering back up to me framed by a muddy face, I thought ‘Oh, shit. This changes everything.’
It was August 2012 and we had lived in Ho Chi Minh City for two months. We had no concrete plans to stay much longer than till October. Our room was about 20m² and was feeling smaller by the day. With most of our clean clothes thrown off the bed onto the floor every night, and unashamedly kept there throughout the day, with our piles of shoes left by the door waiting to be tripped over, with our bin occasionally left to overflow for a day or three, we found ourselves escaping from the claustrophobia as often as possible. We were in no shape for having any kind of parental responsibilities.
Earlier that afternoon Gareth had nonchalantly left the room to go to work where he expected to spend an hour and thirty minutes teaching English to 3, 4 and 5 year olds by pretending to be an octopus or threatening to eat the children or something. He was really disappointed when he arrived and saw that the Kindergarten was closed. As he pulled up, his teaching assistant was already there, talking on the phone to the office of the language centre that had sent Gareth to the school. After she passed the phone to Gareth, it was time for them to part ways.
‘Ok, well see you next week’
‘Goodbye. See you again’
His TA pointed to Gareth’s feet ‘Ooo, look, look, look! Cas, cas!’
Gareth looked and saw a scrawny dirty-white kitten croaking for its life. He picked up its gaunt body and looked around. There were no homes close by, no open doors the kitten could have escaped from, no one chasing after it. Gareth did the only thing he knew to do, he put it in his bag and hoped beyond hope that I would be in a good mood.
After washing, feeding and laying down some newspaper in the corner of the bedroom, we had to think of a name for this fur ball.
‘I want a name that means something’
‘Yeah, me too. But what if it dies?’
‘We don’t even know if it’s a girl or boy yet’
‘I’ll check… It’s a girl’
‘She still deserves a name, even if she dies’
‘Yeah, I suppose so’
‘I wonder what’s ‘strong’ in Vietnamese?’
I grabbed my dictionary and flicked through to S
‘It says khoe, I really like the sound of Khoe, it sounds delicate’
‘Yes, that’s the one!’
So, we called her Khoe, pronounced like Kway. At that moment she could have been days, if not hours away from death. Her body was limp and her eyes were dull. But she was going to be called Strong. Everyday of her life we would declare Strength over her. But a few days later she got sick.
After racing home from work to be with Khoe I saw that there was some blood on the newspaper in the corner. My heart sank. A few minutes later Gareth returned and I explained to him what I’d seen. After a quick search on Google we read that we had to seek medical attention immediately. It may have been the cat biscuits that we’d hastily bought two days before that had caused her to get sick.
The nearest vet to us was a two minute ride on the motorbike. The doors opened out onto the main road and there was a dog, lying on a metal table in the so-called reception, tongue out, mid-snip. The vet understood our problem, it helped that we’d translated a few terms using Google Translate too.
Khoe popped her tiny head out of the backpack. Little did she know that she was going to be pricked and prodded in the most undignified of manners. Her temperature was taken and she was injected with an ample amount of antibiotics. We were told to return another four times.
She seemed to recover instantly but we continued to take her to the vet. After the fourth time, however, the vet insisted we bring her back another three times. Our instinct told us to forget it. We were sure that Khoe was too small for this treatment. It also didn’t help the vet’s situation that whilst we were there two Vietnamese ladies came with a kitten, the same size as Khoe, that had died, and they were furious with the vet. We never took her back to that vet again.
A couple of months passed and Khoe was getting bigger. It was time for us to decide about our future.
‘We have to move out’
‘She’s getting too big for this room isn’t she?’
‘Yeah, and it stinks of shit in here all too often’
‘Well, lets get looking then’
So, that is how we decided to stay in Vietnam a little longer. If we stayed for at least another 6 months we could afford to save up for Khoe to go home to the UK and meet us there after we’d finished travelling. We wasted no time in looking for a new place. Three weeks later we were in our tenth floor apartment, on one of the busiest roads in the city. Khoe spent the first couple of days bounding around the 90m² space and sitting out on the balcony overseeing the aeroplanes touching down at Saigon airport.
As Khoe grew we realised that we had one very smart cat. She can actually play fetch! She drops her little grey ball next to either Gareth or myself and we can spend 10 minutes at a time throwing the ball, which she runs to full pelt and brings it back to us with absolute anticipation. She also has become one of the most beautiful cats I’ve ever seen with her dazzling white coat spliced with wisps of turtle shell and ginger.
Last month we began to research properly how to send a cat back to the UK from Vietnam. Our fear was that she would have to be kept in quarantine for 6 months in the UK but it turns out that the EU laws changed on 1 January 2012 and instead there is a process that can take a minimum of 4 months with any approved vet. We found one such vetinary practice online called Saigon Pet Clinic, so Gareth popped Khoe back into her favourite backpack to begin the journey of becoming a Scouse cat.
This clinic had an actual reception and waiting area. Behind was a curtained sparkling surgery where Khoe was to take her first steps. The vet was a chirpy man in his early 40’s with good English; he was even able to crack a few jokes to lighten the atmosphere. He was smitten with Khoe, as were the rest of the staff. They were constantly cooing over how beautiful she is.
Khoe’s first appointment consisted of getting microchipped and then given her first rabies injection. She had to wait 30 days before she could have a blood test to confirm whether or not she is rabid, and given her second and final rabies injection. We took her back to the vet on Monday where she was pricked and prodded again, hopefully for the last time. Covered in a white towel and held carefully by three staff, the vet gently drew out the blood from a front leg. Her second rabies injection was fairly traumatic. It must have hurt her because she yowled and bit the poor fella holding her close to her neck. Like any crazy cat lady I couldn’t bear to watch Khoe go through this ordeal. I had to walk out a few times holding back tears and violent eruptions that I instinctively felt to protect my fur ball.
Our next step is to wait for the blood test result, which should arrive in three weeks. The blood sample has to be sent to the UK where it will be tested and certified. We will then receive a certificate that will allow Khoe passage to the UK. From this point on it’s at least another three months before she can legally leave Vietnam. But something tells me it could be a bit longer before we decide to leave. One thing we do know, when she is carried off that aeroplane she will be a free woman-cat.
If you are interested in adopting a cat from Vietnam then read more about it on ARC Vietnam (Animal Rescue and Care). Their website, at the time of writing, appears to be under construction, but you can find more information on their Facebook Page. The British government has produced a leaflet with the longwinded title of Bringing Pets into the UK after 1 January 2012 which details a checklist of the new rules.